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SPILLANE, Mickey



Something’s Down There

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The first half hour on the beach was a solemn time. There was the loss of a boat and a near loss of a friend, but most solemn of all was the story that had to be told, retold and embellished with every telling. The fifth time around, the solemnity was gone and the excitement had crept in, and if Hooker hadn't made inroads into the cold beer, he would have sworn it was all a dull dream.

Somebody poked at the driftwood fire and it flared up enough to show the anxiety on the faces of the listeners. They looked like wooden statues.

Before, it had been bad enough. The eater had come always at night, and by simply sailing during the daylight hours they could be sure of safety. Now all that had changed. The hunger of the thing had forced it to select a meal in broad daylight.

Under questioning, Peter-from-the-market gave his answers as honestly as he could, being deliberate about every word. They were on the way home, the day fair, the sea calm. There was no activity at all to indicate that the eater was there below. Yes, the birds were squealing and dipping overhead but that was because the Soucan had a good catch of fish and the boy was emptying the dead bait in the wake of the boat.

There had been little warning at all, no ruffling of the sea's surface, no sound like the others had heard during the night attacks, a strange, foul smell, then that one powerful grab at the bottom, making the Soucan heel violently, and the eater was gone. One quick look below told him he had been badly holed; he dragged a mattress on deck, tied a line to the rail and the other end to the mattress, and got it under the stern and pulled it into position to cover the gaping rent in the bottom. At first it stymied the water's onslaught, but the bedding was too old and began fraying, spitting its entrails into the hull. Peter tied the other end of the line to the opposite rail, then stood in the stern with his son. All he could do was radio for help and hope somebody would hear. Luckily, the Clamdip was not too far off.

Hooker squashed the empty can in his hand and tossed it into the fire, then got up off his haunches and nodded for Billy to follow him. He was getting that edgy feeling again, the kind he had known for too many years in the past when something was happening and all you knew about it was the bits and pieces. No doubt about it, there were six local boats down in the area, all sunk in the last few months. There was no insurance scam involved because nobody could afford it anyway, and there wasn't one islander about to scuttle his only means of livelihood.

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